Prescription charge for medical card holders trebles
PUBLIC and private patients on a lot of medication or taking expensive drugs will be hit hard by a new round of health hikes.
The prescription charge for medical card holders will treble from 50c to €1.50 per item from January.
An individual or family covered by a medical card, who previously paid no more than €10 a month, will now be liable for up to €19.50.
Private patients on the Drug Payment Scheme, who previously paid no more than €132 a month for medicines, will have to shell out €144 from January.
The two measures are part of a menu of cuts and extra charges outlined yesterday by Health Minister James Reilly as he spelt out how the Health Service Executive (HSE) would operate next year with €13.6bn in funding and a capital budget of €397m.
The HSE, which has to generate €731m in savings, will have to hit a range of areas increasing the cost of private beds in public hospitals to bring in €65m.
Health insurance companies are to be charged the full economic cost for the first time if a private patient is put in a public bed. But the blow will be softened as the charge will be imposed in stages.
Otherwise, the bill would "knock the whole system" of private health insurance over, Dr Reilly said.
Nevertheless, this will push up premiums for private health insurance subscribers next year.
A total of €323m in cuts, mainly in the medical card bill, will include a reduction in fees to GPs and pharmacists.
Another €308m cut has been earmarked for pay-related savings, with more staff shed from hospitals and the community.
The home help budget will remain the same but that means that the 500,000 hours taken out at the beginning of this year will not be restored.
The €100 A&E charge remains untouched but the daily charge for public patients admitted to hospital is expected to rise.
Dr Reilly would not be drawn on the knock-on effect on waiting lists or other patient services, insisting that changes in systems and work practice as well as reduced absenteeism would lessen the impact.
GPs are being advised on more cost-effective drug prescribing and the HSE has more accountancy expertise on how to manage its funding.
However, the HSE overspent by around €366m this year and will have to ask the Department of Finance for a €245m supplementary funding next week.
He said more savings would be made up from the Croke Park agreement but refused to say how much.
He is to go ahead with plans to offer newly qualified nurses work in hospitals under a JobsBridge intern scheme.
"The lessons over the last year is that by reforming our health services we have managed more with less resources. Waiting lists are reduced and trolley numbers are cut by 25pc," he added.
Irish Independent Supplement